Tag Archives: Covering America

“Covering America” reviewed

By Chris Daly

Delighted to see this review just out from Publisher’s Weekly.

Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism.
Christopher B. Daly. Univ. of Massachusetts, $49.95 (544 p) ISBN 978-1-55849-911-9

In this scholarly yet readable volume, Daly (Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World), a professor of history and journalism at Boston University, presents a surprisingly spirited and detailed account of American journalism and the many ways in which the press has impacted the trajectory of American history, and vice versa. Beginning in the early 1700s with the institution of a postal service and continuing through the advent of the Internet and its implications for the “dinosaurs” of big media, the book is full of colorful portraits of American media icons such as Benjamin Franklin and late New York Times reporter David Halberstam. Any history book runs the risk of being bland, but Daly peppers the text with amusing anecdotes and intriguing facts (e.g., the idea for the first journalism courses, offered at Washington & Lee University, came from defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee). Daly divides the major time periods in American journalism into five categories: politicization (1704-1832), commercialization (1833-1900), professionalization (1900-1974), conglomeration (1965-1995), and digitization (1995-present). These divisions make the narrative easy to follow for both students of journalism and casual enthusiasts. In addition to the interesting stories, Daly makes many cogent arguments about what the press has meant to the country’s shared history and identity. Illus.

Reviewed on: 04/09/2012
If you’ve read it, please leave a comment of your own. If you haven’t, get off-line, pick it up, and read!

 

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Shameless promotion

By Chris Daly

Just back from a talk I gave at the Columbia Journalism School on Tuesday. The dean, Nick Lemann, is an old friend who graciously hosted a discussion of my new book, Covering America

The video should be shown on C-Span’s Book TV in a few days. (I will post the link when it’s definite.)

Here’s proof that I was there, standing in front of Joseph Pulitzer himself.

Photo by Anne Fishel

Photo by Anne Fishel

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A St. Patrick’s Day tribute (part 2)

By Chris Daly 

One of the greatest Irish-Americans in the history of U.S. journalism is one who is not often remembered today: S.S. McClure.

After making money in the syndication business, McClure sent on to found one of the most important magazines in American history, the eponymous McClure’s Magazine. More than any other magazine, his was at the heart of the Muckraking movement at the start of the 20th Century. He hired or published Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, and other pioneers of investigative journalism. The January 1903 issue of McClure’s Magazine was one of the greatest single issues ever published. 

Here is an excerpt from my new book (on sale now!), called Covering America, which is a narrative history of 300+ years in journalism.

 

 

As a coherent national movement, muckraking can be traced to the year 1902. The setting was a monthly magazine called McClure’s, which had been founded by S. S. McClure, an Irish-born journalist, in 1893 in New York City. Sam McClure was a pioneer in a new kind of publication then sweeping the country. Although magazines had been published in America for more than a century, they generally steered clear of journalism and focused instead on literature, fiction, ladies’ fashion, or housekeeping hints. Traditional magazines like the Atlantic Monthly, Scribner’s, or Harper’s were also typically quite expensive in price and conservative in outlook. But starting in the 1880s, a new kind of magazine appeared. Thanks to dramatic drops in the cost of paper, magazines could now be priced to reach middle- and working-class audiences. And thanks to the halftone engraving process, they could print extensive displays of photographs. It is also important to note that, unlike even the biggest daily newspapers, which were rarely distributed far beyond their home base, these magazines circulated around the country. The emergence of cheap, well-illustrated monthly magazines created the possibility, for the first time, of a mass national audience focused on news and public affairs. Until the advent of radio networks in the 1920s, such magazines were the only truly national outlet for journalism.

Still, it took some initiative to capitalize on this new possibility and to turn it in a politically progressive direction. That was precisely where Sam McClure, after making a fortune in syndication, led the way. One of McClure’s first hires for his magazine was a young woman named Ida Tarbell, who spent most of the 1890s working on lengthy serialized biographical sketches—first of Napoleon, then of Lincoln. Two other key additions were a contributing editor, veteran Chicago reporter Ray Stannard Baker, and a managing editor, Lincoln Steffens, hired in 1900. In January 1903, McClure’s Magazine assembled an issue that has been called the most famous in American magazine history. It contained three articles that became recognized as classics of modern muckraking: part three of Tarbell’s history of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil trust, Steffens’s exposé of municipal corruption in Minneapolis, and an article by Baker on a brutal coal-mining strike in Pennsylvania—all accompanied by an editorial written by McClure that attempted to frame the entire issue as one that raised serious questions about American society. “Capitalists, workingmen, politicians, citizens—all breaking the law, or letting it be broken. Who is left to uphold it?” he asked. “There is no one left; none but all of us.”

Tarbell’s nineteen-part series on Standard Oil became a sensation and set the standard for the techniques of exposé. Tarbell, who had grown up in the oil fields of western Pennsylvania, where Rockefeller built his business, was a scrupulous researcher, and she relied heavily on official government documents and court records to build the case against him. Rockefeller’s companies had been sued and investigated for many years, and there was an extensive paper record dispersed across dozens of courthouses and state agencies, but no one had committed the time and expense (McClure sank an astonishing $50,000 into the project) to pull it all together in a dramatic narrative for a national audience. Tarbell’s account was quickly published in book form, and two years later, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt filed a federal antitrust suit against Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. For McClure’s Magazine, the impact was also great. From a circulation of about 370,000 in 1900, the magazine shot past half a million after it began running exposés.

Soon, others joined in. Journalists began looking into child labor, race relations, lynching, prostitution, and an array of other social ills. . .

 

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A St. Patrick’s Day tribute (part 1)

By Chris Daly

Irish immigrants to the United States, of course, had a large impact on American journalism. Usually landless, they crowded into the growing cities of America in the 19th century, at precisely the same time as the ascendancy of the big-city daily newspapers. Often literate in English, the Irish immigrants found a way to make something (a paycheck) out of nothing (a facility with the language).

One of the greatest was Finley Peter Dunne. (His timeless observation about the purpose of journalism appears on pg. 128 of my new book, Covering America).

 

 

 

Here is the quote:

“The job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Dunne wrote in the guise of “Mr. Dooley,” a thickly accented immigrant, as a columnist for a series of papers in Chicago during the 1890s and early 20th Century.

Finley Peter Dunne (from Wikipedia)

 

 

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Covering America: the book

By Chris Daly 

 

My publisher, UMass Press, has produced this flier about my book, which includes the all-important ORDER FORM for advance orders.

DALY_flyer

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My Book Gets Nearer to Publication

I am pleased to pass this along from UMass Press. It’s the page from the Press’s upcoming fall/winter catalogue announcing my book, Covering America:

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